Thursday, November 28, 2013

The mostly forgotten



This is a second post about the list of a hundred best novels selected by a literary critique Clement K. Shorter in 1898. I’m not familiar with the next five books on it and only know one of the authors, Robert Louis Stevenson. I haven’t read the book chosen from him, The Master of Ballantrae (1889). Modern readers remember him by Treasure Island (1883) or The Strange Case of Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde (1886), though as a short story, the latter probably wouldn’t make on similar lists.

I haven’t read the books, but since I’m probably not alone in this, I’ll mention them anyway. The books may not be interesting, but the author of the book number 99 definitely is. Reuben Sachs (1889) was written by Amy Levy, of whom Wikipedia mentions her feminist positions, engagement with homosexual romance, and suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide. Clement K. Shorter must have been more open-minded than the men of his time in general to include her. That, or he truly liked her book that was concerned with Jewish identity and mores in the England of her time”. 

Black but Comely was a 1879 novel by a Scottish novelist G. J. Whyte-Melville. He was a productive writer of historical novels, none of which have interested modern audience so much that they would have made a mention of them in Wikipedia. Equally forgotten is P.G. Hamerton, an English artist and art critic who wrote two novels. Shoreter has chosen Marmone, which Hamerton published as Adolphus Segrave in 1877.

The first translated book on the list is Fromont Junior and Risler Senior. It was written by a French author Alphonse Daudet in 1874, and it was translated into English in 1894. It was the novel that made Daudet famous and he was hailed as a great author already in his lifetime so it’s presence on the list isn’t surprising.


After five unknown books, the sixth is more familiar: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1868, first English translation 1885). Not that I have read it either, but it’s one of those books I feel I ought to read. I’ve tried, even.

I went through a Russian classics phase at seventeen and waded through a couple of easier ones. I started to read Crime and Punishment a couple of times too, but I never managed more than tenth of it before giving up. Mostly because I was hopelessly lost with all the characters.

Perhaps I ought to give it another try. Of the hundred books on the list, counting from the bottom, it is the first one that has retained its value to our days. As you’ll see later, there aren’t many of those on Shorter’s list. But more on that next week.